By: Katie Sobiech
It was like a scene from a movie, only you probably won’t see it on the big screen anytime soon. The setting, a warm home in inner city Akron, a rainbow of races, primarily Hispanic, and a group sitting at a large table fellowshipping over lunch. Something you rarely see any more in our fast paced society.
“Help yourself,” Sister Catherine Walsh, CSA said with a welcoming demeanor. Handing out plates she described the dishes spread on the wooden chest in the dining area.
“These green beans were grown in our garden,” she said smiling proudly.
The Catholic Worker Movement (CWM) owns four homes on the block, including the House of Peace, Matthew 25 House, Dorothy Day House and Casa Maria Jose. These homes welcome the homeless and those of low income so that they have a place to stay while getting their lives together. The Movement in Akron began twelve years ago.
“It was just a small group of people here in Akron that came together,” Sister Catherine explained, “And we do not accept or look for any agency or government money. When our guests are working they contribute a small sum for the upkeep to pay the bills.”
“It is all of our homes,” she continued, “It’s not just my house and somebody’s living here, or Kevin’s house and somebody is living with him. They are just as responsible for it as any of the rest of us.”
Individuals and families can stay in the homes until they can afford to be on their own.
Word on the Street
This reality takes place in a quiet little neighborhood where the birds chirping and sun shining can be a bit deceiving.
As we sat down after a meal and bowl of coconut ice cream, Sister Catherine shared “We are a very troubled neighborhood.”
Kevin Zaloba, live-in volunteer at the Dorothy Day House, added, “An unfortunate statistic in this neighborhood is that the average drop out age is 12 years old. We are situated between three schools and this is the last year for two of them. They are closing.”
The only one left is Saint Mary’s, a private school.
“All of our local public schools have just closed,” Sister Catherine said with a look of dismay in concern for the children.
Children and education are two very important aspects of the CWM ministry.
She continued, “This neighborhood needs a great deal. It needs attention from our city officials, which it doesn’t get much of. It is lacking attention in the sense of housing, as you can see there are so many overgrown yards and lots of things that need to be done that aren’t.”
Music to Our Ears
What motivated the CWM to reach out to the children of the neighborhood through music was the amount of students dropping out of school. Music has a way of playing on the heartstrings of the youth; therefore the CWM designed a music program to reach a seemingly unreachable generation.
“Music programs have been proven to help keep the youth in school and that is part of the focus,” Zaloba, the Director of the music program, said.
“We decided a music program would be very appropriate for the children from the neighborhood. They are Hispanic, African American, Caucasian, and we are just getting started but they are learning. We have the perfect opportunity to bring together the different cultures,” Sister Catherine added.
She continued, “Since we are in a very troubled neighborhood and it is very difficult to get the youngsters into any program we thought the music program would be appealing across the divide that happens between the different races because we have all of that here, including Asian.”
After receiving a grant for neighborhood outreach from the Sisters of Charity Foundation in Cleveland (St. Anne’s Legacy), the CWM was able to build their dream for the neighborhood – a music studio.
Brand new, shiny guitars in a splash of different colors lined the walls of the basement recording studio built for the kids at the Dorothy Day House. Bongos, keyboards, a drum set, amplifiers and speakers filled the room.
“We can burn our own CDs like a recording studio,” Zaloba said. “We have performances lined up for the kids once they get up to speed so that they can go out and play for the community.”
He says that when they graduate they should be able to read, write, play and compose by ear.
“We’re going to cover pretty much every genre of music, keeping a clean theme,” Zaloba said, “and at the end they will each be gifted their very own instrument. If they learn guitar they get a guitar, amplifier, tuner, picks, everything that they need to get going. If they learn drums they get a full drum set.”
This outlet is providing the foundation for the youth to have dreams and goals, hopefully keeping them away from the more destructive activities that result from boredom.
“It’s a good way for the kids to express themselves,” Betty Greene, a friend of Sister Catherine’s said.
Touching the Community
Just as music touches the soul, the CWM is touching the hearts of the community. They have surrendered much to follow the call of God on their lives; living among the poor and dedicating their lives to the service of others.
In addition to the homes is the Peter Mauren Center on South Main Street, which is a “little, old” storefront building, described by Zaloba.
“It’s a good place that we go to fellowship, hang out and break bread,” Zaloba said, “We offer food, hygiene products and hook them up with the resources that they need.”
They also go out on Friday nights to minister to the poor throughout the city and offer items they need. This just merely touches on the intricacies and many ways that they help individuals day in and day out. To find out more, read Part Two next week!